OK, it’s not so famous for that last one–in fact, Hana has only a handful of restaurants to begin with. But–unless you enjoy staying in and cooking while on vacation, you’ve got to appreciate any restaurant that makes an effort to accommodate those of us on plant-based diets.
While I had hoped to sample “Cafe Romantica”, a vegetarian diner operating out of a camping bus, I found it had been shuttered. So off I went in search of other options, including a Sunday-night only mostly vegan dinner at Kipahulu’s “Cafe Attitude” that carries the slogan “Be Grateful or Get Out”. It was dark–under Christmas light illumination–and I recall something made of meaty jackfruit (even the pits are edible)… I was still grateful for the company and the open mic night performances of music and poetry.
Closer to Hana town (5050 Uakea Rd) is a Thai restaurant where vegans and non-vegan guests alike will find both food and service welcoming. The restaurant changes its name on different days of the week–with slightly different menus–for its two chefs: “Nutcharee’s Authentic Thai Food” (Tuesday-Friday) and “Pranee’s Authentic Thai Food” (Saturday-Monday).
I visited there twice with Nutcharee in the kitchen, when they offered three dishes that could be veganized: Chowfun Noodles, Stir Fried Veggies, and Drunken Noodles. On my first visit, I had the Vegetable Stir Fry, and on the second, the Drunken Noodles. The stir fry was OK, though slightly bland with carrots, zucchini, bell peppers, onions and string beans, served over white rice. I preferred the drunken noodles (with the same vegetables) because the noodles absorbed more of the sauce.
I had heard good things about their pad thai and asked my server whether they could make it vegan, too. He said it was possible, but not recommended because the texture and flavor would not be the same without nam pla (fish sauce). Ditto for the spring rolls.
The server explained that some menu items could not be considered vegan because they were fried in a pan also used for cooking fish, or made with white flour (not sure why they thought white flour wasn’t vegan–but strict vegans would appreciate their vigilance).
I went back another day to try Pranee’s menu, and couldn’t resist ordering her version of “Drunken Noodles” (labeled as the signature dish) as well as the Summer Spring Rolls. The staff watched curiously to see whether I preferred Pranee’s or Nutcharee’s noodles. Not tasting them side-by-side (or wanting to start a turf war), I could only say they were both tasty. I believe Nutcharee’s was spicier, even though I had requested medium hot (both chefs use Hawaiian chili peppers, pictured here). I did appreciate the addition of tofu to Pranee’s, however.
Between you and me, Pranee’s menu is more extensive and she seems more willing to make anything vegan. Just remember you can’t complain if it isn’t really tasty, because nam pla is one of the most vital ingredients in Thai food. You can also be grateful that prices at both restaurants are quite reasonable!
Oh, there is one other option for vegans in Hana–Jungle Pizza (aka “Hippy Pizza”), the wood-fired clay oven pizza (Friday/Saturday evenings) at Hana Farms, where you can order a vegetable pizza without cheese.
Raw Vegan Options
If you are on a raw vegan diet, you’ll quickly find your best friend is Hana Fresh, the local farmers market, which carries a decent variety of green vegetables including kale, rainbow chard, escarole, frisee, green beans, as well as seasonal fruits. Hana Fresh also carries salads and sandwiches and lunch boxes, but most contain animal products. The purple sweet potatoes (though steamed) are one exception worth trying at least once.
Ono Farms stand, a little further down Route 360 (Hana Highway) beyond the town center, is the place for non-GMO, organic fruits. Although, off season, you’d be surprised to pay $6 (why is it cheaper to buy Maui pineapples in Honolulu?) Coconuts will cost visitors $6 each, whereas locals pay half that. For $35, Ono Farms offers an Exotic Fruit Tasting tour Monday-Friday (reservations required).
Other raw highlights include the alfalfa sprouts at Hasegawa’s General Store. Hasegawa’s also stocks a few organic items and vegan convenience foods, such as soy milk and soy mayonnaise (they carry hardware, too). But 99 percent of their food items are junk, and expensive junk at that. If junk food is what you’re looking for, of course you’ll be grateful!
And, should you ever grow bored of swimming and eating in Hana, pay a visit to the historic Kahanu Garden botanical garden, home of the Pi’Ilanihale Heiau-the largest remaining sacred temple in Hawaii.
Whether you are visiting Hana or another remote part of the world, please leave me a message and let me know your experiences with vegan options while there.